It was Christmas Day. I was crowded in at a dinner table that was just slightly too small for the amount of people present, something that’d become much more obvious when dinner had been served, as serving dishes vied for space with people’s drinks. Now, however, we’d moved to the gift-giving stage of the family holiday gathering – and before me sat an unwrapped book, its cover characters gazing out, unmoved by the Christmas spirit. A cousin had gotten me manga, and that manga was Stepping on Roses Vol. 1.
I looked up at their voice, as they happily said, “Oh, you’re still into that anime stuff, right?” I’d had a decent amount of some sort of pumpkin liquer concoction, as well as some Mike’s Hard Lemonade (very seasonal), so it was easy to smile and say, “Oh, yes!” I figured I’d trade it in at my local comics shop. Not the end of the world.
But, there I was, reading it mere hours later. And, worse, I was enjoying it.
Stepping on Roses is a tale about a poor, innocent, saintly young woman named Sumi who keeps getting saddled with orphaned and abandoned children her ne’er-do-well elder brother, Eisuke, whose primary occupation in life is that of gigolo. Eisuke has the general attire and manner of a 21st century host club host despite living in 1890’s Japan. He also drinks and gambles away all the money, then borrows more from yakuza-types. When one of these fine gentlemen comes to collect a debt that Eisuke has forged Sumi’s signature on, Sumi desperately flees into the night to sell her body so she can pay off the loan. Since this began serialization in Margaret in 2007 (and not, say, 1987), she ends up getting picked up by a wealthy man named Soichirou, who needs a bride ASAP so he can inherit his grandfather’s fortunes. Soichirou has a terrible personality, and commands Sumi to not ever fall for him, which is convenient since she’s already got a crush on Soichirou’s friend Nozomu, and everyone loves a love triangle involving an asshole.
Stepping on Roses comes from that stable of shoujo manga that I generally loathe right off the bat. You’ve got the virginal, idiotic heroine (which in this case ends up feeling weird since Sumi isn’t a moron when we initially meet her; she gets a sudden case of denseness about halfway through chapter two), the dark-haired male asshole, and the fair-haired kindhearted man. Sumi stumbles around being ignorant of social conventions, and Soichirou yells at her. Rinse and repeat. Nozomu smiles at Sumi and she gets even more idiotic, prompting Soichirou to yell at her all over again. The entire driving force of the story is, thus far, Sumi is dumb and also ignorant of upper-class conventions (understandably!), and that Soichirou is a jerk.
I never would’ve picked this up on my own since this isn’t what tends to be up my alley. I don’t really like brainless heroines who are fated to end up with the asshole who verbally abuses them. But I honestly really enjoyed this one, admittedly in the way that one enjoys something as they roll their eyes constantly at it. Some folks would probably term this “ironic enjoyment”, but I’ve always found this a questionable phrase – I’m enjoying it, and it’s a piece of entertainment, so doesn’t enjoying it for any reason mean you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? Where’s the irony in that? But there is no denying that I was borderline gleeful while reading this – the premise is so silly! The melodrama is so forced! The characters behave so ridiculously! How could I not enjoy it? It seems to scratch the itch Missions of Love was taking care of before I stopped reading that, having grown bored with watching those middle schoolers (!) consistently ignore each other’s boundaries.
I try to remind myself to mention artwork in my reviews of manga; I’ll admit to usually not bothering to get into it unless its egregiously awful, and I’m talking frequent departures from the models type of awful. Stepping on Roses is pretty solid-looking visually – it doesn’t stand out from its shoujo peers stylistically, but its clean-looking and doesn’t dip in quality at all. Author Rinko Ueda also varies Sumi’s outfits after she gets married, too, which requires more effort than slapping a school uniform on her does, particularly as the dresses are frequently rather ornamented.
Viz’s release is perfectly fine. The transliteration is smooth, there aren’t any typos or grammatical errors, and the pages are reproduced clearly.
I don’t know that I can recommend Stepping on Roses outright, or even with the usual manner of qualifications, i.e, “I recommend this if such-and-such.” Surely if you like shoujo with heroines in unfortunate situations, you’ll probably enjoy this one, although the premise may prove a mite too foolish. I enjoyed it even though it doesn’t fall within my general preferences and tastes, so who knows? Probably best recommended for folks who are looking to scratch the itch for some shoujo melodrama in their lives.